Fell and Cheaper Comics

Ian Brill interviews Warren Ellis on Fell’s format for Publishers Weekly. The book is unusual, 16 pages of single-issue comic story + 8 pages of supporting material for $2 US. It’s something of a breakthrough in giving fans what they’ve said for years they wanted — a cheaper, satisfying read — and more Image comics will be following its model in the coming year.

Retailers should also be pleased that this format is real competition for those “waiting for the trade”. Instead of costing almost a third of a $10 collection, it’s a fifth the price. Issues can be read in almost any order, and each provides a complete story… although there’s a bigger mystery to the setting and characters that rewards continued purchases. It’s so cheap that it makes sense as an impulse purchase.

Steven Grant’s latest column, however, points out that some retailers are arguing, at a time of mostly declining sales, for more expensive comics. I don’t think that’s really what they want. Grant doesn’t follow the point through, but I find it interesting that he also reviews Fantagraphics’ 32-page-for-$8! offerings in the same column, books that will never be seen in most stores. I think those retailers arguing for higher cover prices want to make more profit on what they’re already selling, which in many stores means DC and Marvel.

12 Responses to “Fell and Cheaper Comics”

  1. James Schee Says:

    I’ve often thought that it was more about worth than price. I haven’t tried Fell, but if its giving readers their money’s worth that’s great.

    A decision is coming upon me on manga books. I’ve been caught a couple of times lately preordering a volume only to discover that nearly half the book is background material. I’ve never been that into that kind of stuff, and if I had known about it beforehand may not have gotten the book. So I’m contemplating going back to just buying the series in book chain stores again so I can see how much content is there.

    Oh and I do agree on your assertion that it sounds like some retailers wanting to just make more on what they already sell.

    Can’t say I’m surprised though. Look how much comic prices have gone up in recent years. Fans may complain about the cost, but it certainly doesn’t seem to make them stop buying them. Especially with alternate covers, endless spinoff minis and crossovers and the like selling like hotcakes no matter the price.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Which manga volumes have been half background? I guess I’ve been lucky not to have run into those.

    I can’t really generalize from my experience as a customer regarding pricing, because I don’t pay cover price for any comics — I trade for them or preorder (and get a discount) or get them at a discount online bookseller. But then that’s also how I shop for books and DVDs these days (with the addition of buying used).

  3. Joshua Macy Says:

    Since the cost per foot of shelf-space in a comic store is relatively fixed, unless the publisher is discounting it more heavily, a cheaper comic of the same size is going to have to sell a lot more copies for the retailer to break even. That’s why manga TPBs are such a great deal: they’re two or three times as expensive, they take up about 1/9th the space since they can be racked spine outward, but customers still think they’re worth buying since they have about six times as many pages as a comic.

  4. Johanna Says:

    Yes, those are some of the concerns… but “I could have filled this slot with something higher-priced” is always true, and the ultimate result of that thinking is giving up “floppies/pamphlets”/stapled comics all together.

    And the kinds of retailers we’re talking about don’t tend to carry manga because 1. they aren’t interested in the content 2. they don’t want to attract more female readers into their store 3. there are too many titles for them to make choices among and 4. they don’t fit the existing racks right.

    It shouldn’t surprise me that there’s a strong undercurrent of “I want to keep doing things the way I’ve always done them” out there. Why should this field be any different?

  5. Joshua Macy Says:

    Have I mentioned recently that I think that “floppies/pamphlets/stapled” comics are doomed?

  6. Johanna Says:

    No, but every new news story seems to lead that way, doesn’t it?

  7. James Schee Says:

    (off the top of my head)

    Not one half, but it was startling to turn a page in Steady Beat and find all these pages dedicated to sketches, a preview of some series that wasn’t even the same genre and the like.

    Its extremely slow pace just made the amount of nonstory pages stand out even more than it normally would have though.

    I very rarely buy anything for cover price either. DCBS gives me nearly 50% or more off, book chain stores are always offering special deals and discount cards. Plus Amazon usually has such nice prices as well, and as with you trades with friends.

    Yet with manga, there are so many series I want to catch up on. So if I take a chance on something else and feel like I got less than I would have if I’d bought one of the more proven series. It can bug me a little and make me more likely to go for the more safe series next time.

  8. Johanna Says:

    Ah, I still haven’t had the time to read most of the OEL books I bought a couple of months ago. I have heard complaints about slow pacing, though — I suspect it’s because the books aren’t originally published as magazine chapters. And yes, variety is both a blessing and a curse.

  9. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Comic retailer Mike Sterling disagrees with those who think Fell should have been priced at $3. I’m sorry to reproduce so much of his comments, but they’re so pithy: Speaking as a seller of funnybooks, I think having a $1.99 comic that’s actually good is just dandy, particularly one by a writer with a significant amount of material in the marketplace. I use it as an inexpensive sampler book for people who want to try some of Ellis’ work but don’t want to dish out for the cost of one of his trade paperbacks. On the flip side of this, I have several customers who only buy trade paperbacks of Ellis’ work, but buy Fell because it’s only two freakin’ bucks. […]

  10. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] The Fell experiment is clearly a success. As the Image press release says, Five Eisner Award nominations. Three issues sold out. Still only $1.99, the best deal in comics. FELL is having the best week ever. Image Comics has announced it is going back to print on three separate issues of FELL — new printings on the two most recent issues (#3 and #4) along with a FOURTH printing for FELL #1. In keeping with previous re-printings, each new printing of FELL will feature the same cover and content, with no variants. Aside from its amazing creative team and universal praise, what sets FELL apart is its unique format — coming in at only $1.99 for 24 pages, the ultra-compact story delivers more bang for the buck and is pioneering what is quickly being nicknamed the “FELL Format” comic book. “It’s absurd that we are doing another printing of a $1.99 comic featuring a nun wearing a Richard Nixon mask. But as long as retailers keep selling ‘em, we’ll keep printing ‘em,” said Warren Ellis. “And to think some retailers accused us of leaving money on the table. We seem to be hoovering it up pretty damn good, no?” […]

  11. Retailer vs. Customer Needs » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] the case of Fell, Warren Ellis’ $1.99 comic. It attracted attention and sales because of its price point, but […]

  12. Ellis and Templesmith’s Fell on Digital Sale » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] also find the pricing interesting. Fell created a cheaper format that was quite successful while it was running (although some retailers hated it, reminding me of […]




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